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Overcome legacy methods by adopting a product mindset

(Image credit: Image Credit: Totojang1977 / Shutterstock)

Innovation is stifled within many large organisations. In companies everywhere, there are legacy systems, processes, silos and structures in place that are barriers to keeping them customer-focused and purposeful. As a result, many established companies are struggling to keep pace with the expectations of their customers, which is surprising given their size, expertise and resources.

It’s possible to overcome legacy methods by adopting a product mindset. Thinking ‘products’ instead of ‘projects’ will focus teams on ‘customers’ and not ‘stakeholders’ driving a sense that they are creating for a purpose and therefore delivering more meaningful outcomes. It will also mean pulling cross-functional teams together to get things done, breaking down that typical output of legacy methods: silos. But where do you start?

If you’re not sure where to start, start small, but start somewhere. In this article, I’m going to outline the essential parts of a product-driven process, whilst bringing it all to life with a something my team at Potato tackled together with a large high-street bank - the application process for trade guarantees, a commercial financial product.

Challenge what’s happening

In the first instance, if something isn’t operating as a successful product would - challenge it. In the bank’s case, the existing application process for trade guarantees was entirely paper-based, processed manually, and very error-prone. It was taking a long time, frustrating customers and costing the bank money to process. Transforming this was a priority. In a product mindset, these outcomes are not acceptable.

Adopt an agile approach

Creating a solution in isolation and delivering a finished product will not work. An agile process will need to be adopted to address and solve a legacy problem. For trade guarantees, we organised a series of workshops to unpack and understand what was needed: the product, the users, the various cases, and user journeys. We set up an agile team, which included the bank as well as Potato’s designers, developers and coaches, to redesign and build the product over four one-week sprints.

Validate and iterate

Once you have established a hypothesis worth testing, you must prove or disprove this hypothesis and ensure confidence in the product you are building. To do this, you need to design a series of experiments or prototypes to rapidly validate through to launch and beyond.

While transforming the trade guarantee application, something that was key to our ‘test and learn’ approach was considering 'lightweight' alternatives to a fully digitised process, such as emailing the customer updates to their application. We also helped the bank design and present an approach for further development and improvement of the service based on ongoing user insights. Our work resulted in approval for the next stage of investment and plans to expand it as a platform.

Test in the real world

Get real users to test the prototypes you build. This way you will gain valuable, actionable insight and iterate the prototype until it’s working effectively. Try to test across a variety of users with varying needs and complexities. Once the basic functionality is validated, it can be launched at scale. Once any product is live in market you can test and refine using exactly the same approach - continual validation, continual improvement, continual tweaking to deliver the original hypothesis more effectively.

The bank we worked with launched the new application process to a test group. The immediate results from testing in the field were greater visibility into their customer's actions and issues, and a ready-made, rapid way of iterating the product accordingly. The introduction of a digital process also allows the bank to move from a ‘one size fits all’ process to a ‘smart process’ tailored to each customer.

Work with an innovation partner

Of course, as the innovation partner in the project, I have to mention the importance of that relationship. The innovation team within a legacy organisation can be a lonely place. Constantly pushing for things to be done differently for positive outcomes is not always welcome. However small or large those suggestions might be. A nimble innovation partner can bring the talent, culture, ways of working, and skills to a project in a way that cannot always be done by using only an internal team. Especially if legacy methods appear to be the barrier to innovation.

However external collaboration isn’t the only important factor, internal collaboration is also imperative for the sharing of ideas and moving things forward. For the bank, the trade guarantee project involved collaboration across five groups, including Potato.

The results with be worth it.

Adopting a product mindset to overcome legacy methods will focus teams and deliver more meaningful outcomes for both your customers and your business. Starting small while validating and iterating will also reduce the risk associated with innovation, especially in legacy companies which can approach ‘proof of concepts’ in the same way as ‘finished product’, the latter having a much larger cost and risk associated with it. Understanding that your products do not have to be complete and working on day zero but grow and evolve as your business does, and as customer needs change, will benefit an organisation immensely.

For the bank it all adds up to huge cost savings, giving time back to their employees and their customers’ employees, an enhanced customer experience, improved data quality and a better brand perception from customers. The number of correct first-time trade guarantee applications more than doubled using the prototype with one customer actually declaring, “I am actually looking forward to applying for my next guarantee which is a first!” The product helps the bank continue to be appreciated for a ‘digital first’ approach by their customers as they actively invest in moving away from dated methods and into improving customer experience.

Scott Ewings, CEO, Potato
Image Credit: Totojang1977 / Shutterstock

Scott Ewings
Scott Ewings is the CEO of Potato. Potato exists to design, develop and launch purposeful and effective digital products. They are based in London, Bristol and San Francisco.